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Asia-Pacific , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft

China Modifies its H-6 Strategic Bombers into Potent Electronic Warfare Platforms

January 27th - 2018

China's People's Liberation Army is one of only four world militaries fielding strategic bombers. The People's Liberation Army Air Force and People's Liberation Army Navy between them field a fleet of approximately 120 H-6 bombers, formidable thought dated long range platforms. The PLA Navy’s South Sea Fleet has notably sought to acquire modern electronic warfare capabilities mounted on such long range platforms by converting its H-6 bombers into H-6G electronic-warfare aircraft. Rather than delivering nuclear or conventional payloads to far off enemy targets, the H-6G's role is radar-jamming and deception as well as to guide and provide targeting data to ground launched cruise missiles.

The H-6G platforms have been retrofitted with electronic countermeasure (ECM) pods under their wings. These ECM pods are an invaluable asset allowing the PLA to carry out electronic jamming, suppression, and anti-radiation. As Chinese military expert Song Zhongping stated regarding their role in an interview with Global Times: “The main role of the electronic fighters is to pre-empt and obstruct a foe’s electronic … devices like radars, and further paralyse these surveillance devices so as to hide our combat platforms’ track and routes." In this way the H-6G could provide an equivalent to and excellent countermeasure to the United States Navy's EA-18G Growler - itself a modification based on the chassis of the F-18E Super Hornet. With the U.S. Navy expanding its military presence in the waters surrounding China, the H-6G would prove a highly invaluable asset it case of conflict. While it lacks the Growler's ability to deploy from aircraft carriers, its extremely long range more than compensates for this shortcoming - particularly when operating defensively near Chinese coasts. The H-6G is well within its limits to cover the entire Korean Peninsula, South China Sea and East China Sea. It also has the potential to be used more offensively and targeting U.S. facilities in the Pacific as far as Hawaii.

The conversion of the H-6 bomber into an electronic warfare aircraft is likely a first step in pioneering such capabilities, and the Navy could well in future develop its J-15 Flying Tigers into carrier based electronic warfare platforms in much the same way as the U.S. Navy developed the F-18E. China’s JH-7 strike fighter, a platform with similar dimensions to the J-15, has also reportedly been converted into an electronic warfare platform. It is notable that both the H-6 and the JH-7 fleet are platforms the PLA fields in excess which could potentially see retirement in future. The JH-7 has been surpassed by the newly inducted and more capable J-16 strike fighter while the role of the H-6, by far the most numerous bomber in the world, is shrinking with developments in missile technology. This and their long ranges make them ideal test platforms for conversion into electronic warfare aircraft.

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